“I now believe that there is an absolute incompatibility between art and private property or between art and state property... Property must be destroyed before imagination can develop any further... I find the function of art criticism...serves to uphold the art market...
Known as the “Godfather of Black British Photography”, Vanley Burke was born in Jamaica and moved to Birmingham in 1965 at the age of 14. He spoke to Birmingham poet Kurly about his life, his photography, how communities had to respond to racism after immigrating, and his new exhibition at Birmingham Cathedral for Black History Month, Being Built Together.
How were things when you arrived in the UK compared with where you were brought up?
First published in 1926 and written a few years before, this small book is a fascinating read written at a watershed of Soviet history both in the debate over art and the revolution, and more generally over the direction of the revolution. It reflects and was part of a turn away from the experimental art after 1917 to what became social realism of the 1930s and beyond, a move that mirrored the counter revolution.
Art that attacks the establishment is not new. The Dadaists in Berlin from 1919 held a series of events aimed at the ruling class — they hung from the ceiling carcasses of dead pigs dressed in the uniforms of generals of the German Imperial army; they released a herd of cows among the critics at one of their openings.
Just as the horror at the First World War led to Dada so the current state of Russia has given rise to an art fuelled by anger, Pussy Riot being the most famous.
This exhibition looks at key moments in the development of art from the French Revolution to the Second World War.
The main subject matter of European art from the 15th century onwards had been the ruling classes and their possessions. Realism had been the dominant artistic form. However, the successive political upheavals of the 19th century encouraged the spirit of rebellion in the arts.
Bob Light’s powerful tribute to John Berger (February SR) contained the claim, “There is no objective way to define what good art…is.” This raises interesting questions.
Clearly the merits of works of art cannot be measured in the same “objective” way as a person’s age or height. But societies (and individuals — including Berger and Light) do make aesthetic judgements and it is a mistake to imagine that these are purely subjective, individual or arbitrary.
Prior to the Barbican’s latest exhibition, Boom for Real, I knew very little about Jean-Michel Basquiat beyond the fact that he was black, hung out with Andy Warhol and died at the age of 27. Like most casual observers then, I was astonished when one of his untitled portraits sold for $110.5 million (£85 million) at Sotheby’s earlier this year.
Neoliberalism has promoted an art market that encourages the rise of artists such as Damien Hirst as "factory" owners, employing students on low wages to churn out works for the world's super-rich dealers and collectors. Noel Halifax asks how we got to this sad state of affairs.
What is art for? Oscar Wilde famously said that art was useless and by implication outside of utility — therefore it was able to transcend the capitalist system. Today the most successful artists seem to have rejected the notion of art as transcending the market and a system of value based on money in favour of a neoliberal art world of “art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake”, as rock band 10cc put it.
I welcome the discussion in the pages of Socialist Review about the Exhibit B controversy. I don’t think it is right to call the exhibition racist, but I still signed the petition to cancel the exhibition as I believed that showing Exhibit B at the Barbican would help to reinforce racism.